In what is developing into one of the most intense intra-team rivalries since Prost and Senna, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg take their ever-intensifying grudge match to Monza this weekend for round 13 of the Formula One championship.
Fresh from crashing into each other at Spa-Francorchamps a fortnight ago – the latest in a growing list of own-goals by F1’s best team – the young bulls head for the iconic Italian circuit with a tongue-lashing from their team bosses still ringing in their ears.
“They remain free to race for the 2014 FIA Formula 1 world championship,” Mercedes said in a press statement after a post-Spa meeting with its drivers. “But Lewis and Nico understand and accept the team’s number one rule: there must be no contact between the team’s cars on track,” the statement went on to rather obviously state.
The rivalry took one of its nastiest turns at the Belgian Grand Prix when the two teammates clashed on the first lap and missed out on what after qualifying had looked to be a straightforward one-two result for Mercedes. The crash saw Hamilton slowed by a puncture which eventually saw him pull out of the race from a non points-scoring 16th position a few laps from the end.
RICCIARDO IN WITH A SHOT
Although Rosberg went on to finish second behind Daniel Ricciardo, the Red Bull driver stays within striking distance of the drivers’ title, especially with double points to be scored in the November season finale. That would mean a haul of 50 points for the winner, and after his three victories Ricciardo is just 64 behind leader Rosberg.
Rosberg eventually admitted responsibility for the Belgium incident and was handed an unspecified “suitable disciplinary measure” by the team, but whether it will lead to more contrite behaviour from the German at Monza this weekend remains to be seen. After 12 races the German leads his English teammate by 29 points and could afford to settle for a safe second place here and there, but it doesn’t seem to be in his nature.
Rosberg, once considered a fast but rather mild-mannered driver, has failed to be intimidated by the more openly assertive Hamilton in their season-and-a-half as team-mates, and the Spa incident again underlined that the German possesses a killer instinct.
Their rivalry will play out at speeds of around 360km/h at Monza, the highest straight line speeds of any circuit on the calendar. Drivers use the lowest downforce set-up of the year, in order to extract maximum speed on the fast straights which is the key to a quick lap time.
The winning strategy last year was a one-stopper, with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel starting on the medium tyre and then switching to the hard. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso used the same strategy to finish second from fifth on the grid.
With Ferrari so uncompetitive the tifosi are unlikely to see one of their beloved red-suited drivers on the podium again this year based on pace alone. They, more than anyone, will be hoping for another Mercedes own-goal.